5 ways to succeed with flexible working

Mobile technology and modern management principles has enabled work for much of the white collar workforce to now be defined as what you do, instead of where you go to do it.

In fact, 78% of the Australian businesses have adopted a level of flexible working in relation to time and location. As a direct result of flexible working, 79% of SME’s and 63% of large businesses report improvements in productivity (Source: a global study of 16,000 senior business managers from Regus who specialise in providing flexible workspaces).

Attracting and retaining top talent is the Number 1 reason businesses offer a flexible environment to staff. Other reasons can be due to the disparate nature of a small business not requiring a head office or it’s a way to reduce real estate costs of offices.  

How is this affecting you personally? Are you more productive as a result of flexible working or are you part of the 37% of large businesses who are not? Ignoring productivity, do you just like the sheer convenience of flexible working? The idea of being able to do the school run, go to the gym or choose whether to start work early or finish late is very appealing. However, flexible working doesn’t remove the necessity for outcomes to be delivered on time and are you achieving these without working excessive hours?  

What we do know is workers who are not productive in the office don’t magically become more productive just by working from home if they’re unable to manage themselves well. Sure the number of interruptions might be less when not working in the office, but interruptions are only 1 aspect impacting productivity.

Five areas for workers and organisations to consider to be more effective at flexible working are:

  • Reduce the distractions – productivity suffers when we’re distracted. It’s unlikely you will process complex work effectively while watching the TV or singing along to the radio when working from home. You might enjoy the freedom but the satisfaction soon disappears if you have to work late to catch-up. You’ll get more done if give your full attention to the task at hand if it requires a reasonable level of concentration.
  • Manage deadlines – a big change in a flexible working environment is how people are managed. In an office workers may have been traditionally managed to an extent by time and attendance. Sure outcomes need to be delivered but visibility has an influence. Visibility isn’t so obvious when staff are working remotely via flexible working. As such, staff need to be managed by lead measures and outcomes. Staff therefore need to be able manage deadlines by being expert at planning, prioritising and executing.
  • The environment – if working from home you need a space to work and the dining room table might not be appropriate. A study is ideal but everyone doesn’t have 1 so depending on who else lives in your house you might even need multiple areas where you can work based on the time of day. I sometimes work from home but very rarely do so during school holidays because I find it too hard to concentrate with the extra noise caused by 3 school aged children. As such, I look for alternative places to work like a co-working space, a library or I schedule more customer appointments than I normally would.
  • Systems – flexible working is very difficult if your systems don’t work well. Reliable technology and internet are paramount to success, as is the ability to store and retrieve information quickly (it’s frustrating and an unnecessary time waster when you can’t find what you need to process your tasks). Make sure your systems work with a minimum of fuss.
  • You’re part of a team – this shouldn’t be forgotten just because you’re working remotely. You need to continue to build and maintain relationships. Ways to do this are to communicate with your colleagues (some of the more popular software to help teams collaborate are Slack, Yammer, Skype or Salesforce Chatter). Therefore, allocate some time each day to engage with colleagues ie. ask questions, support, share knowledge and challenges, key activities etc.

With flexible working a cookie cut 1 size fits all approach doesn’t suit everyone because there needs to be a degree of personalisation. A key principle to success is to find your rhythm with how you work best. When you’re able to do this you’ll be able to integrate work within your lifestyle while achieving outcomes within the allotted work hours.